It wasn’t until the middle of the night about a week ago that I finally had an eureka moment. I was asking myself why so many kids today are charged as adults in this country for all kinds of crimes… I was mad as hell thinking of James Prindle waiting for his day in court, languishing in jail for over a year so far, receiving no schooling and only minimal health care services… and then it hit me: It’s the money, stupid!
It costs the states and other jurisdictions more money to incarcerate children than it does to incarcerate adults. Much more money.
If a prosecutor charges a child as an adult—even if a child like James is wrongfully accused and not yet convicted of a crime—that child will be jailed in an adult facility where basic services normally afforded to children (like schooling) are withheld. In this way, even though they justify adult charges on the basis of the supposed seriousness of the crimes, unethical and heartless prosecutors lower the costs of warehousing kids.
In California, for example, it cost an average of $47,102 a year to incarcerate an adult inmate in state prison in 2009. In 2008, it cost an average of $216,081 to incarcerate a child for a year in juvenile detention (and more in 2009)— 4.6 times as much. By way of comparison, per-student spending at the University of California was $25,100 in 2009.
If you apply this same multiplier to states that spend much less per adult inmate (state prison spending varied widely in 2005, from $45,000 a year in Rhode Island to $13,000 in Louisiana, with an overall average of $23,876 dollars per state prisoner), this same vile calculus should hold true. It goes a long way towards explaining why as many as 150,000 American children will be sent into adult incarceration this year.
Yesterday we learned that James Prindle’s case will not go to trial until May of 2012. Now remember, he was taken into custody on August 16, 2010, when he had just entered the ninth grade. This means that James will have missed two years of school because of his wrongful detention. How will he ever be able to make up for so much lost time? The State of Tennessee seems not to care. To the State of Tennessee, James is just another throw-away kid.
Well, we do care and regardless of whatever fiction the State of Tennessee may claim, we know that James is a child with potential who must be valued and nurtured. Yesterday Stephen and I talked and we decided that we must step into this vacuum of state cruelty, injustice, and neglect and take responsibility for James’ education while he awaits his coming day of presumed freedom. We will start our own virtual school and tutor James by mail while he is locked up. If the State of Tennessee won’t do right by James, we will.
It won’t cost so much. Showing him we care and helping James exercise his brain and build his self esteem will yield priceless results.
Groove of the Day